States Seek More Recycling Deposits to Bottle up Budget Gaps

Initially passed decades ago by states looking to promote recycling and help fight pollution, bottle bills are now becoming popular proposals for states looking for any extra infusion of cash.

Massachusetts is one of the latest to suggest expanding its nickel deposit law from carbonated beverages to include bottled water, juice and sports drinks. Gov. Deval Patrick claims the state could collect an extra $58 million for the 2010 budget by collecting the unclaimed deposits.

Consumers in Massachusetts now pay an extra nickel for each bottle of beer or soda but get the nickel back when they return bottles to stores or redemption centers. If consumers do not redeem the bottles, the state receives the nickel.

Connecticut, New York, Iowa and Michigan are also reintroducing measures this session to expand their existing deposit laws -- hoping to join Maine, California, Oregon and Hawaii in passing broader bottle bills.

The proposals have drawn praise from recycling groups as a "win-win" situation but cynicism from retailers, who call the moves political money grabs.

Many previous efforts to expand bottle deposit laws have been stymied by lobbying from retailers or lawmakers who say it's an extra tax on consumers.

"They're relying on people not returning containers so the unredeemed nickels go to the state. That's very poor public policy," said Chris Flynn, president of the Massachusetts Food Association, which has long opposed the bottle law. "What's next? If the budget deficit isn't fixed, will we bring all trash back to the store?"

But tough economic times have made env Kim, a consultant who was recently laid off, said she wouldn't appreciate the extra nickel on her purchases as she carried her bottled water and juice out of the Whole Foods market in Boston's Beacon Hill neighborhood.

"I personally wouldn't like to be charged extra because I do recycle right now," Kim said. "I don't see why that would motivate people to recycle more."

Some doubt expanding the bottle bill will help the budget.

"I just don't see it working," said Thomas Whalen, a political historian and social science professor at Boston University. "At this point, given job losses and people cutting back on everything, you don't want to give them an excuse not to consume or purchase something."